By Laura Scaletti
Portraits by Kristie Scholten
Rachel Lindsey has always known her purpose on Earth involved working with horses. “I believe with all my heart that my passion for horses is God-given,” Rachel said. “I didn’t come from a horsey family. I didn’t inherit a love for horses. I just loved them.”
When Rachel was a baby, her mother would push her in a stroller as they took their daily walk down the country road they lived on in Texas. “Mom unintentionally created a monster. There was a pasture on our walk with a mare and a foal. As part of our walk each day, we’d feed them treats,” Rachel said. “It was the highlight of my day.”
From those first roadside encounters with horses, Rachel just couldn’t get enough. She was determined to forge a path where horses continued to be part of her everyday life. In March 2013, Rachel made her dreams a reality when she purchased Madrone Ranch Stables in Austin, Texas.
Pathway to Pro
Rachel began begging her parents to get her riding lessons around age 3 or 4. Not sure where to take their horse-obsessed daughter, Rachel’s dad ended up taking her to ‘Ol Cactus Jack, a trail-riding barn, on a regular basis. “We went so often that the owners eventually just let us take their sweet horses out on the trail by ourselves without a guide,” she said.
From trail rides, Rachel moved on to summer riding camp and was introduced to the hunter-jumper discipline. After a successful camp horse show where Rachel won first place, she was all in and ready to start jumping. This time around, her parents signed her up for lessons at Switch Willo Stables, where she would eventually go from pony lessons to the professional ranks.
Although Rachel knew early on she wanted to work with horses, she needed to formulate a plan to make that happen. “Like many young riders, I had to make a choice to either get a job and make enough money to support my hobby or figure out a way to go at it professionally,” Rachel said. “I went to St. Edwards University on an academic scholarship and graduated summa cum laude. I majored in finance, because I figured it would either be helpful in running my own business someday or it could help me land a job to hopefully support my love for horses.”
While in college, Rachel worked for Glen and Phoebe Johnson at Switch Willo Stables as a barn manager and assistant trainer. Only 30 minutes from campus, Rachel had the best of both worlds getting time in the classroom and the saddle. “I’m forever grateful for the opportunities I was given at Switch Willo; however, after I graduated from college, I felt like it was time for a change. I’d always lived in Austin and wanted the chance to work for a barn where I would get experience showing at places like Devon and Indoors,” Rachel said.
When Rachel heard that Susan Baginski of Baskin Farms in St. Louis, Missouri, was looking for a rider and assistant trainer, she decided it was her chance to seize the moment and make her move. Once in Missouri, Rachel loved her new job and working for Susan. “She instilled a lot of confidence in me as a rider and taught me how to believe in myself,” Rachel said. “I attribute most of what I know about teaching/coaching to what I learned during my time with Susan.”
While Rachel loved the job, she didn’t like St. Louis. “At Baskin, like most barns, we worked long hours, so I never had time to meet new friends outside of the barn,” she said. “After about a year, I was homesick for family and friends and decided it was time to return to Texas.”
As Rachel put the key in the ignition and headed back to Austin, she was discouraged. “I had felt like that job was going to catapult me into a successful career as a rider and trainer. After I quit, I considered working for my family’s car business and doing horses on the side, because I couldn’t imagine my life without horses,” Rachel said. “But God had other plans for me, and my time working in the horse industry was just beginning.”
On the drive home, Rachel received a phone call from her friend Katie, who’d been an assistant trainer at Madrone prior to moving to Kansas City, Missouri. “Katie mentioned Madrone was looking to fill her assistant trainer role and put me in touch with the owner, Mary Parker. When I got off the phone with Mary I thought, Why not? This will at least allow me to work with horses and live in Austin near my family and friends again,” Rachel said.
As soon as Rachel accepted the assistant trainer position, she headed straight to meet the Madrone team at the Pin Oak Charity Horse Show. “After that first show back, I realized I was exactly where God wanted me to be. I was finally back in Texas near my family and friends, plus I was at a barn that was competitive at all the top shows in the country. It seemed like a win-win,” Rachel said.
Rachel immediately had a strong urge to make Madrone her permanent home—by attempting to buy it. “My dad helped guide me through the process of making a business plan, crunching the numbers and presenting my case to Mary. The initial business plan we created was on a Starbucks napkin, from our Starbucks brainstorming session,” she said. Unfortunately, even with her dad’s help, Rachel was told Madrone wasn’t for sale and Mary wasn’t ready to part with her farm. Although not the answer Rachel wanted to hear, it didn’t deter her goal of someday owning the farm.
“At the time, I was reading a book, ‘The Circle Maker,’ a fable about a drought-stricken community that prayed and prayed for rain. One day, a man, Honi, drew a circle in the sand and stood in the circle and prayed to God that he wasn’t leaving the circle until the rain came. Eventually, rain did come,” Rachel said. “The premise is that God honors our faithful prayers and we need to pray big. They should be so big that there is no way we can accomplish them on our own.”
With Honi’s success in mind, Rachel made her own version of a circle around Madrone. Every day she would ride one of the horses around the perimeter of the property and pray. “The owner didn’t want to sell it, I didn’t have the means to buy it on my own, but I truly believed I was right where God wanted me to be. So, I prayed that God would help me figure out a way to buy it because on my own there was no way,” Rachel said.
After asking Mary if she’d sell the property numerous times and the answer always being no, Rachel’s prayers were finally answered after Thanksgiving 2012. Over the Thanksgiving holiday, Mary had been nursing a sick horse and had missed the entire holiday with family and friends while taking care of her barn owner duties. “When I saw Mary enter the barn tired and frustrated, I thought to myself, This is my moment! I said, ‘Are you sure you don’t want to sell the barn?’ To which she responded, ‘Write a contract!’ I couldn’t believe my ears,” Rachel said.
With a farm of her own, there was another childhood dream Rachel needed to make a reality. “When I was a little girl, I went to a birthday party that had a mini and cart for the kids to ride in. I thought that was the coolest thing and have wanted a mini ever since,” Rachel said.
Her desire to have a mini wasn’t a secret, so when her friends and clients saw 40 miniatures listed in a “kill pen” Facebook group, they sent her the link. Rachel started scrolling through the heartbreaking photos and wanted to adopt them all, but there was one in particular who caught her eye. “She was tied to a fence, covered in mud and hair, but her eye looked very kind,” Rachel said.
Ready to give the mini a home, Rachel went through the online adoption process; however there was one hitch—payment had to be completed via PayPal and Rachel couldn’t remember the password to her old PayPal account. Once she finally logged in, she realized there was undeposited money sitting in her account.
“To my surprise, it was the exact amount of her adoption fee. I thought that was a sign it was meant to be. I paid the fee, named her Noel because it was Christmas Eve and she was my Christmas present to myself,” Rachel said.
Rachel put Noel, a shy and nervous resident at Madrone at first, in the very front of the barn and encouraged all the barn kids and clients to spend as much time as possible with Noel so she could learn humans weren’t so bad. Noel quickly learned humans come with treats, so they can’t be that bad.
Today Noel has come out of her shell and is the “manager” of the barn. “She signs for packages—one FedEx guy thinks it’s funny to sign her name—she yells at the grooms if she thinks they’re being too slow at feeding or turnout time,” Rachel said. “When she wants your attention, she will grab her halter and throw it at you.”
She also goes on the road with Madrone. Rachel taught Noel how to drive after she arrived at the farm. The duo competed a few months later at the Pin Oak Charity Horse Show where they were champions in the Opportunity Pleasure Driving division. “That led to her becoming our mascot. Just like you wouldn’t leave your dog at home, I don’t leave Noel behind. She has her own trunk, scrim, wool cooler and a small paddock that is set up at the front aisle at most shows,” she said.
Rachel also brings her German shepherd mix, McGraw, with them. “He’s obsessed with Noel. He loves to run alongside her when we carry the flag for the national anthem. It really is my little dog and pony show,” she said.
One of the unexpected gifts Rachel has received since buying Madrone is the sense of community at the farm. “When I first arrived, Madrone was primarily a Junior Hunter barn. However, over the years, as Junior riders graduated, the stalls were slowly being filled with horses owned by young adult riders,” Rachel said. “While we still have Junior riders and pony kids, the young adult ladies have become our niche!”
As a professional, it’s hard to find that work/life balance and have time for friends at the end of a long barn day. That’s why the Madrone community is so special to Rachel. “In addition to being home to our beloved horses, Madrone is home to our barn family. We are all quite competitive and have riding goals, but we also share a love for horses and enjoy being at the barn for hours and hours,” Rachel said.
The ladies of Madrone truly do life together. “In addition to riding and traveling all over the country to horse shows, we also spend time together outside of the barn going to the lake, gym, local breweries, game night, ranch weekends and we recently took a trip to Mexico,” Rachel said. “Even the boyfriends/husbands have become friends and often hang out together when the ladies are away horse showing.”
Rachel believes it’s easy to get caught up in the competitive side of the business—having the best riders, best horses, how well the duos do at each show. “Trust me, we have wonderful horses and riders, but it’s about so much more than that. It’s about the people in our community who have a passion for horses,” she said.
That’s why she’s made Madrone a safe haven for all of her riders. “It’s their escape from work and school and all the chaos they have to deal with in their daily lives,” Rachel said. “Madrone truly is the happiest place on Earth.”
Rachel’s always dreamed of riding at top level, being able to compete successfully at the four-star and five-star Grand Prix, riding on a Global Champions League team and riding at World Cup Finals. “I’ve never had the resources or the horse to be able to do it. But I finally have a horse, Comander 16, who can jump the bigger tracks. We competed last year in our first four-star qualifier and it was a surreal experience,” she said. “My plan this year is to see how far we can go!
“As much as I want to achieve my own riding goals, it’s also about supporting my riders and helping them be the best versions of themselves; matching them with their perfect horse and helping them accomplish their own goals,” Rachel continued. “It’s about our Madrone family getting better together.”
Not only was Rachel’s passion for horses God-given, but she also believes it’s her duty to share this passion with her community. “God didn’t just give me this blessing so that I could just ride horses and live happily ever after,” she said. “He gave me this blessing so that through it, I could bless others and share that love with my clients.”
For more information, visit www.madroneranchstables.com and follow on Instagram @madroneranchstables
Photos by Kristie Scholten, www.moonfyrephotography.com